'Amnion membrane could be source of human eggs'

Technion researchers make discovery that could eventually eliminate the purchase of ova by women unable to get pregnant.

December 25, 2012 00:19
2 minute read.
Sperm cells surround an embryo

Sperm cells surround an embryo 311. (photo credit: Debbi Morello/Detroit Free Press/MCT)


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Membranes from the amnion – which makes up the amniotic sac that surrounds and protects an embryo in the uterus – could in the future serve as a source for human eggs and eventually eliminate the purchase of ova by women unable to get pregnant.

This first-ever discovery was made by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and was just published in the latest online issue of Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. The article is titled “Human amniotic epithelial cells differentiate into cells expressing germ cell specific markers when cultured in medium containing serum substitute supplement.”

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Prof. Eliezer Shalev, head of the Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and a leading obstetrician/gynecologist at the Emek Medical Center in Afula, worked on the discovery with doctoral student Ayelet Evron and Dr. Shulamit Goldman.

The amnion, part of the placenta, is routinely thrown away after a woman gives birth. Years ago it was collected after birth by cosmetics companies that claimed it helped make women look younger, “but this was shown to be nonsense, so they are now thrown into the garbage,” Shalev said.

The cells of the amniotic membrane are created during a very early stage in the life of the embryo – about eight days after conception – and preserve the plasticity of its embryonic cells before they differentiate. The researchers found that these cells have the ability to differentiate into those expressing specific markers of germ cells that produce the ova. Germ cells are the biological route for genetic transmission from one generation to the next.

The researchers wrote that “germ cell development has been difficult to study in vivo [in the body] because important early events occur after implantation.” This difficulty is most evident in humans when ethical issues are considered.

“There is still a lot of research work to do. The amniotic membrane’s cells look like ova and express genes characteristic of eggs,” Shalev told The Jerusalem Post.

“It’s like the natural situation. The eggs in the fetus will remain this way until the baby who is born reaches sexual development, which in a girl means starting menstruation. To turn into ova, the cells need the conditions that adolescent girls have – proteins or hormones surrounding the ovary.”

Additional research replicating the conditions in the adolescent must somehow be produced by adding proteins or hormones to produce human eggs, said Shalev.

“This could take a year or 10 or 15 years, but we discovered the principle,” he said. “It is too early to know – but when it is done successfully, women who do not produce healthy ova or any at all could use them to become pregnant. These could be donated to older woman, and there would be ethical problems, but it would probably be used mostly for women who entered premature menopause.”

“This will eventually bring about the end of ova sales, but it will take time.”

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